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Big News: Sentencing and Parole

Big News with Dave Crampton

Sentencing and Parole: Forget the judges - fear the Parole Board


Now that the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill has been passed, convicted and sentenced offenders will be more wary of the New Zealand Parole Board than any court judge.

All new prisoners are now eligible for parole after a third of their sentence. Previously automatic parole was granted after two thirds of their sentence. Judges will be handing down sentences as punishment for crimes, knowing full well that the Parole Board will be reviewing and overturning these sentences based on whether an offender is at risk to the community. Prison, instead of being a place for punishment, will now be a place to shield offenders from society. Parole, instead of a reward for good behaviour is now a system used to protect society from the worst offenders and release the rest earlier. This may save the government a bit of money as most people will not be in prison for as long as they used to be.

To get parole, all a violent offender has to do is stick out a third of their sentence then convince the New Zealand Parole Board that they will not be at risk to the community, irrespective of any aggravating factors taken into account by a judge. Previously prisoners had to show that they were reformed before being paroled. If the parole board considers a prisoner is not a threat to society, parole is a prisoner’s right – reform or no reform. In reality this means most violent offenders will be let out of jail earlier, and if they are not reformed and convince the parole board that they should be paroled, this will lead to more offending on parole.

You have to ask what provisions are put in place to stop reoffending on parole? The answer: Well, none actually.

Yet when 90 percent of voters were questioned on sentencing for violent offenders, nearly all wanted tougher sentencing, and associated parole provisions. Since the election, violent crime has increased 14.9 percent and the government has thumbed its nose at those who want tougher sentencing and, apart from the most violent criminals, given more power to a parole board and less power to the courts.

But the new legislation will ensure tougher sentencing for hardened criminals who have not convinced a parole board that they can be released. These criminals may serve their full sentence and judges, at their discretion, may impose minimum terms of up to two –thirds of a sentence.

Although suspended sentences are a thing of the past – they never worked anyway – this bill allows for an extension of an application to deal with situations that suspended sentences previously dealt with. This includes adjournments or postponements of sentences to allow people to remain in the community to show that they can reform. Of course the lawyers win here as this provision will result in an increase in legally-aided lawyers paid for by the taxpayer.

The Government has also set aside $90 million of out tax in additional expenditure to cater for the expected 350 increase in the prison population. Maybe they think the Parole Board will not parole most prisoners after a third of their sentence.

But what about the victims of crimes? What rights do they have? Well, none, actually. They will feel less safe as they know the person who burgled their house and raped their daughter may get out of jail earlier. That’s because we don’t have a justice system any more – we have a legal system and the law is an ass.

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